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War and Statecraft Reconsidered

In “War and Statecraft: An Exchange” (March), George Weigel is right to distinguish “rigorously” between bellum in its traditional sense of public war and duellum in its equally traditional sense of private war (piracy, brigandage, terroristic raids, most forms of partisan insurgency). Yet it seems to me that in the post–September 11 situation it is difficult to distinguish between the two in some part because the two senses of conflict are mixed.

Whatever the connection between the attacks of September 11, 2001, and the agendas of certain states, these attacks are execrable instances of partisan or private warfare. Indeed, their purpose is to initiate a worldwide duellum, a global duel. Consequently, it is incumbent upon just war theory to revisit the question of duellum.

Giambattista Vico, in the first edition of the New Science (1725), describes in a compelling way how, despite the ancient Romans’ ambiguous usage, the term duellum nonetheless became associated with “barbarism” in the narrow sense of contempt for public law: “The first outlines of war as such therefore lay in these wars, which were private, with the result that, up to Plautus’ time [in the late first century], the Latins called public wars duella. And when the barbaric times returned, the first form of war spread anew from Scandinavia throughout all of Europe.”

But why did the duellum “spread from the nations of the north to the whole of Europe”? Vico’s answer should not be waved away: “Because civil purges under the judgment of God were deemed just.”

Mr. Weigel and Vico, then, both endorse a sharp distinction between bellum and duellum, but Vico makes an additional sociological point. The motive of partisan warfare, Vico claims, is a purportedly divine warrant for purging civil power. In keeping with Vico’s theory of divine warrant, did not ancient Zealotry, we can ask, pit itself against the civil power of Rome? Did not the Leninist partinost pit itself against the international community composed of civil powers? Has not modern Muslim extremism pitted itself against any civil power that is not a mere instrument of the umma? And has not the West’s military-industrial complex pitted itself against any civil power that does not privilege the “divine right” of capital?

As Mr. Weigel notes, the peace which the civil power is committed to defending is the peace of right order. Vico’s concurring view is that duella will continue to disrupt this peace so long as “the law of conscience that the gospel commands” is not acknowledged.


John F. Maguire
Natural Law Jurisprudence Center
Berkeley, California


Leaving to the side for one moment several of George Weigel’s more questionable assertions concerning the specifics of the war in Iraq, his account of just war doctrine within a “theory of statecraft” should occasion some comment even from those who supported the war on grounds of self-defense. Mr. Weigel’s claim that his analysis [is] fully “Thomistic” calls for careful consideration, especially in light of his failure to distinguish properly between the “directive” and “executive” aspects of political prudence. Doubtless this seemingly technical observation will inspire derision among some. However, if our aim is to discover whether St. Thomas would have countenanced a preventative war like the one we have just witnessed, a little strict observation of the Angelic Doctor would seem to be in order.

Mr. Weigel is quite right to question Dr. Williams’ overly pacific account of the “presumption against war.” Basing such an argument on a “presumption against violence” is clearly difficult to reconcile with the Thomistic and Augustinian analyses, which emphasize the licitness of such coercion by duly constituted authority, as Mr. Weigel observes. Nevertheless, in distinguishing a “presumption against war” from a “presumption against violence,” one seems inevitably drawn to the conclusion that the former phrase has more weight than Mr. Weigel assigns it. And not the least reason for this conclusion is Pope John Paul II’s recent remarks on war and peace. For the phrase is a useful emblem of the concept of war as a “last resort”—that war is not simply one among many options available to “statecraft,” but as the Holy Father emphasized in the run-up to war in Iraq, “war cannot be decided upon, even when it is a matter of ensuring the common good, except as the very last option.”

As might be expected, this notion of war as the last option comports very well with the characterization of the last resort criterion in Gaudium et Spes and the Catechism of the Catholic Church (§ 2309). What is more surprising, however, is that the Catechism’s formulation of war as a last resort also fits equally well with the 1913 Catholic Encyclopedia’s analysis of the issue: “A clear title is limited to the condition that war is necessary as a last appeal.” The Encyclopedia’s emphasis here is signal, because it militates against the argument that the last resort criterion, strictly understood, is a new analysis.

The Encyclopedia’s analysis is indisputably a Thomistic analysis, specifically because it proceeds from St. Thomas’ injunction in the Summa Theologiae that just war must aim at peace and cannot be “sought” as a pretext for war (II-II.40.1, reply to the third objection). Indeed, on page 41 of Mr. Weigel’s own 1987 book Tranquillitas Ordinis he seems to acknowledge this, arguing that the “last” in “last resort” must mean “last.” St. Thomas’ further insistence that even a war fought for a just cause can be rendered unjust by illicit motives (revenge, a lust for domination) (II.II.40.1) only supports the arguments from the Vatican, the Catechism, and the Catholic Encyclopedia that the “primary title” to war is a defense against aggression (extant or imminent) and the redress of wrongs. The analogy St. Thomas uses to elaborate this dynamic is particularly revealing: the public authority is empowered to defend the “commonweal” by armed force just as it is empowered to use capital punishment to defend the same against internal threats. The punitive (rather than immediately defensive) title to war, consequent to an actual injury, would seem to be the only positive (not immediately defensive) title to war, and thus the only one even remotely corresponding to the justification of advancing the good. And in this regard it is interesting to note that the only examples of positive action given by St. Thomas are those analogous to the state’s coercive power to “rescue the poor.”

One wonders how much latitude Mr. Weigel would be comfortable giving to the coercive power of the public authority in wielding the sword to rescue the poor. This is the paradoxical element in Mr. Weigel’s remarks on the subject of war: while he very strictly circumscribes the public authority’s role in coercing economic activity toward the end of promoting the common good, he seems to envision more latitude for that authority with regard to advancing the international common good.

This is to be understood in opposition to the idea, admirably criticized above by the Holy Father, of including war among the discretionary tools of statecraft. Clearly the means of war are at the disposal of public authorities to defend the security of a nation. But it should also be clear that in pursuit of the international common good, war is not numbered among the tools available to particular public authorities—particularly not without a rigorous clarification of wherein that international common good might lie.

To place ourselves with St. Thomas we have to defer to the Holy Father when he describes war not as an option but as a failure of statecraft.


Albert Gunn
Alexandria, Virginia


George Weigel is certainly right that, with the appointment of Rowan Williams to the Archbishopric of Canterbury, a man of abundant theological intelligence now resides at Lambeth Palace.

Yet, while I freely admit to moments when I wish every Catholic bishop in the world were as theologically literate as the current Archbishop of Canterbury, his position on war and statecraft strikes me as inadequate. The Archbishop jocularly refers to himself as a “hairy lefty” and seems to regard himself as a voice of prophetic opposition to the very government that appointed him (the Erastian irony of that should certainly give him pause).

Without getting into the specifics of his debate with Mr. Weigel, I must wonder why Dr. Williams’ prophetic voice is never heard speaking out against the foul politics of the left, abortion excepted. Given his bona fides in the world of hirsute leftism, and given that the Anglican Primate now presides over a communion known more in recent years—at least in the world of journalism and public relations—for its women at the altar and boyfriends in the vicarage than for its doctrinal orthodoxy, one feels certain that his voice would at least be heard (if not heeded) in segments of public opinion where Roman Catholics and Evangelicals could never hope to gain a hearing.

So I am left to ask a whole series of questions about Dr. Williams’ brand of prophetic politics: Why no condemnation from him of the former Labour MP George Galloway, who was filmed visiting Saddam Hussein in Baghdad before the war praising Hussein’s “indefatigability”? Why no condemnation of the Cambridge classicist Mary Beard, who said that the United States “had it coming” when planes slammed into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon? Why no condemnation of the human rights records of North Korea and Saudi Arabia? Or of the attempts of certain Muslim parties to impose Islamic law in Nigeria, Sudan, Pakistan, and Indonesia? Why no condemnation of the failure of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights in Geneva to censure abuses in Cuba, Burma, China, Iran, Syria, and Vietnam? It is not as if we live in a world where a prophetic voice would not be welcome. But selective prophecy is merely political posturing, not a genuinely religious indignation.


Edward T. Oakes, S.J.
University of St. Mary of the Lake
Mundelein Seminary
Mundelein, Illinois


I agree with George Weigel about one thing: “a formidable theological intelligence is now resident at Lambeth Palace.” Rowan Williams was exactly right in pointing to Aquinas’ discussion of violence, as the passage takes us (Mr. Weigel’s objection notwithstanding) to the heart of the matter. It is hard to believe that a theologian so bent on providing justification for preemptive armed conflict would find a theological account of violence tangential to the question of war.

Mr. Weigel needs to deal with Dr. Williams’ reading of Thomas on violence, and he needs to deal more fundamentally with what has rightly been described by John Milbank as Augustine’s “ontology of peace.” Unless one is to move in a Manichean direction, one must think of every kind of violence as parasitic on the disordering effects of sin. Nonviolent order is exegetically, chronologically, and ontologically prior to every other kind of order for Christians. There is indeed disagreement about the justifiability of violence and war under the conditions of sin, but there can be no classical Christian theology that abandons the priority of nonviolent order. That is what “the presumption against violence” or “the presumption against war” is all about.

Moreover, Oliver O’Donovan has rightly insisted that the just war tradition is “a limiting doctrine.” It is about restraining the sinful tendency of individuals and civil authorities to escalate acts of violence. Catchphrases like “cycles of violence” or “violence begetting violence” are not the property of secular, antiwar humanism; they are the fruits of biblical realism regarding the predictable trajectory of vengeful thinking and acting. The “presumption against violence” is a useful way of spelling out the “limiting” nature of the doctrine.

Lastly, in rejecting Dr. Williams’ defense of the “political rationality” of the terrorists, Mr. Weigel appeals to an alleged nihilism in the camp of the terrorists. While I doubt this is an accurate description, surely Weigel is not conceding the truth of nihilism! Surely he would want to say about the terrorists what Augustine said about even the most wretched creatures in TheCity of God: “they have amongst them some tranquility of order, and therefore some peace.” How do we know this? On the basis of the Christian conviction that “no creature’s perversion is so contrary to nature as to destroy the very last vestiges of its nature.” We hear in passages like these Augustine’s resounding rejection of Manichean dualism. Would that we could hear the same in the political thinking of George Weigel.


Charlie Collier
Southern Pines, North Carolina


As a Christian of conservative bent who vehemently opposed the manner in which the Bush administration took the United States to war in Iraq, I read the exchange between Rowan Williams and George Weigel with great interest. I found it a model for the kind of civil, theologically informed, and intelligent discourse so badly needed in the Church and the world today.

A few comments, though, seem to be in order. Mr. Weigel makes a great point about the starting place for just war theory being the preservation of right order rather than a “presumption against violence.” Fair enough. But do not both right order and just war theory have at their root the idea that violence must be controlled? It was the absence of this recognition, from the Bush administration’s first assertions that it needed the approval neither of the UN nor of the U.S. Congress to go to war, that led me to oppose the war.

In order for the state to maintain the ability to use force to preserve right order, it is vital that that force be deployed in a manner that is widely recognized as legitimate. Suppose that a police officer, on hearing that an escaped murderer is hiding out in a house, storms the front door, guns blazing, without first seeking a warrant and while killing the murderer accidentally kills a hostage who turns out to have been in the house as well. While such an officer would not be a murderer, his actions would rightly be condemned as reckless, unaccountable, and not conducive to “right order”—since it would damage the trust necessary between the general population and those appointed to protect it. That is why police departments have manuals of police procedure and why such an officer would probably be fired for violating its strictures.

It is not clear how to create similar controls on the international level. This is in many ways the weakness of Dr. Williams’ argument. But surely there is some middle ground between the Archbishop’s (very Anglican) faith that an institutional solution can be found and the contemptuous rejection of such solutions by the current vice president and secretary of defense. Without some mechanisms to control or at least censure the unjustified use of force, the pacifist impulse to deny it to governments altogether becomes much harder to oppose.


Anand Gnanadesikan
Plainsboro, New Jersey

George Weigel replies:

I am grateful to my respondents for illustrating, in various ways and to various degrees, the vitality of the just war debate within the Christian community today.

John F. Maguire’s call for a reexamination of the bellum-duellum distinction, in light of new realities like terrorist organizations with international reach and effect, is well taken. At the same time, I fear that his proposal is somewhat marred by conflating the first century Zealots, Lenin’s Bolsheviks, al-Qaeda and Hamas, and the Western “military-industrial complex.” Leaving aside the interesting question of whether the last actually exists, it’s not clear to me what painting with such a broad brush illuminates, Vico notwithstanding.

Albert Gunn will, I trust, recognize that the essay that occasioned Dr. Williams’ response (and my subsequent response to that) was not an exercise in Thomistic textual exegesis. Rather, it was an effort to apply the moral logic of classic just war theory to our present circumstances. In part, my aim was to bridge the gap that had emerged over the past two generations between just war thinking and a morally rigorous theory of statecraft; for more on this topic, see my more recent First Things essay, “World Order: What Catholics Forgot” (May). This gap is, if I may use the phrase, thoroughly un-Thomistic. Moreover, I believe this gap has something to do with the so-called “presumption against war,” an intellectual move that tends to reduce just war thinking to a casuistry of means in which the question of obligatory political ends is rather marginalized.

Mr. Gunn and others of his persuasion might well have a look (again?) at the article that launched the “presumption against war” school: James F. Childress’ “Just War Theories: The Bases, Interrelations, Priorities, and Functions of Their Criteria” (Theological Studies 39:3 [1978], pp. 427-445). If Mr. Gunn were to inform me that he found much in Professor Childress’ article that appeals to a strict-observance Thomist, or indeed to any other kind of Thomist, I should be surprised indeed. Charlie Collier might also have a look (again?) at Professor Childress’ article; Childress’ argument might help Mr. Collier understand a bit better why I think the “presumption against war,” as Childress and his disciples have used it, makes a hash of just war thinking methodologically and substantively, with unfortunate consequences for prudential judgment. (On this point, it should also be of interest to various sorts of Thomists that the “presumption against war” was taught by a Quaker, Childress, to a Catholic, J. Bryan Hehir, who then sold it to Catholic bishops interested in maintaining unity between the pacifist and just war wings of their conference. The relationship of the “presumption against war” analysis to the proportionalist methodology deplored by John Paul II’s Veritatis Splendor is a related matter worth exploring. But those are issues for another day.)

Anand Gnanadesikan raises the important question of the locus of moral authority in the twenty-first-century world, with specific reference to the question of who may legitimately authorize the use of proportionate and discriminate armed force. Would Mr. Gnanadesikan’s interest in a “middle ground” beyond alleged American unilateralism on the one hand, and pious but groundless hopes about the present capacities of the UN system on the other, be satisfied by the device of “coalitions of the willing,” I wonder?

Rowan Williams declined to reply to the letters.

Another Skirmish in the Pius Wars

In “The End of the Pius Wars” (April), Joseph Bottum pleads for more vigorous efforts “to correct the slander of Pius XII.” While welcoming José Sanchez’ book Pius XII and the Holocaust as well as my article “The Holocaust: What Was Not Said” (FT November 2003) with its “relatively mild criticism” of Pius XII, Mr. Bottum writes that “there is something willful and maddening in their tone of Olympian detachment.” This can never “restore the balance” and achieve “historical accuracy,” Mr. Bottum contends. What is needed is “pressure on the other side.”

I am no less eager than Mr. Bottum to refute slanders against Pius XII and the Catholic Church. My article stated at the outset that some of the endlessly repeated charges against the Church and Pope Pius XII are “merely exaggerated,” while others (especially in books by John Cornwell and Daniel Jonah Goldhagen) are “so devoid of historical foundation that they range from the absurd to the outrageous.” I also wrote in the article that “many Catholics—priests, religious, laity, and above all Pius XII—helped many Jews, sometimes at the risk of the rescuers’ lives.” Mr. Bottum’s concern to “restore the balance” seems to have prevented him from seeing that my article was not really about Pius XII, indeed that it exonerated him in large measure. I see the problem not so much in Rome as in Germany—with the German bishops.

The central contention of my article was that the Church’s anti-Nazism and antiracism were never intended to defend the Jews from their persecutors, but rather to defend the Church. This is why the German bishops never publicly defended the Jews; and why, for pastoral reasons, they tried instead to find a modus vivendi with Hitler’s regime. The article also noted that a widespread anti-Judaism and socio-economic and cultural (rather than racial) anti-Semitism made it difficult for both Catholics and Protestants to perceive the growing danger threatening Jews.

Clearly, this outlook clouded the vision also of Cardinal Pacelli and Pius XI. They were children of their time and justly concerned with defending their own flock. This concern encompassed baptized Jews but did not extend to Jews in general. Moreover, some of the Nazis’ anti-Jewish measures seemed to some church leaders not wholly unjustified. My article attempted to explain why church leaders acted as they did. That, in my view, is the best defense against the slanders, lies, and outrageous absurdities of critics like Cornwell and Goldhagen.

Trying to “restore the balance” and “achieve historical accuracy” by “putting pressure on the other side” is a political approach, not a historical one—especially when this is done at the expense of truth. It is also counterproductive. Exerting pressure arouses mistrust and provokes fresh attacks from the Church’s critics. The only good and effective way to parry such attacks is always to tell the truth without fear, even if this is sometimes painful and may complicate things for a time. Only in this way can we create a climate of trust between Christians and Jews.

My article was chiefly directed against a kind of “apologetic” which, while intending to defend the Church, does so at the expense of historical truth by embellishing or manipulating the facts. Mr. Bottum does exactly that in his article when he tries to show that the Church defended Jews by citing a “document from April 1933, just months after Hitler obtained power, [which] reveals how Pacelli (then Secretary of State) ordered the new German nuncio, Cesare Orsenigo, to protest Nazi actions.” This is a vast overstatement. The document was not an “order.” There was no question of a “protest.” And Pacelli’s letter was not a Vatican initiative.

The detailed account of this episode in my article is less dramatic but, I believe, closer to the historical truth:

On April 4, 1933, Cardinal Pacelli, at the request of “important Israelite personalities,” wrote the Papal Nuncio Cesare Orsenigo in Berlin directing him to explore the possibility of a diplomatic intervention against “anti-Semitic excesses” in Germany. Orsenigo answered immediately that any intervention by the Holy See was impossible, since anti-Semitism was now part of the official policy of the German government. The Church could not protest against German laws; that would be rejected as interference in internal politics. . . . This response from the Berlin nuncio, along with the letter of April 10 from Faulhaber to Pacelli, appears to have set the course for the Vatican’s future policy. . . . When the Concordat was ratified in September 1933, Pacelli handed the German chargé d’affaires, Hanns Kerrl, a “Promemoria” of the Holy See stating merely that “the Holy See permits itself a word in favor of Catholics who have come to the Church from Judaism.” Jews as such were not a topic for discussion.

As Secretary of State, Pacelli obviously gave in to the weaker policy of German bishops like Faulhaber, Gröber, and Bertram. As an example my article cited Cardinal Faulhaber’s letter to Pacelli of April 10, 1933, in which he declared that nothing should be done to defend the Jews “because that would transform the attack on the Jews into an attack on the Church.” My article also cited Faulhaber’s letter only two days previously to the Regensburg priest Alois Wurm, who had pleaded for the bishops to defend the Jews. This was not advisable, Faulhaber wrote, because “the preservation of our schools and Catholic organizations and the question of compulsory sterilization are more important matters for Christianity in our country.” Up until 1937 Faulhaber, who was a monarchist and a convinced and outspoken anti-democrat, believed that the real problem was not Hitler and his regime but “extremists” in the Nazi party with their volkisch and racist ideology. If these could be neutralized, a modus vivendi with Hitler would be possible. By 1937 at the latest, but probably much earlier, Pacelli saw clearly that this was a grave error and an illusion. He realized that the real problem—and a mortal danger to the Church—was Hitler himself and his regime, which were inextricably linked to Nazi ideology.

Looking at things in this way neither serves one-sided apologetic purposes nor searches for the guilty. Most importantly, it is the only effective and truthful way to “restore the balance” and “correct the slander of Pius XII.” Pius was not “Hitler’s Pope,” nor was he ever a friend of the Nazis or of Hitler. And he was no anti-Semite. He was simply a man who thought as most people did at the time, a man of absolute personal integrity, though with an outlook conditioned by his training as a church diplomat. (On this see the brilliant new biography by Philippe Chenaux, Pie XII. Diplomate et Pasteur, 2003). Once we see this clearly we can examine his actions critically without attacking or undermining the authority given by Jesus Christ to the Church, her Magisterium, her pastors, or the pope himself.


(The Rev.) Martin Rhonheimer
Pontifical University
of the Holy Cross
Rome, Italy

Joseph Bottum’s article contains, in my respectful view, two rather glaring omissions which will be obvious even to those with only a casual interest in his topic. The first is that the Vatican has not released any documents from its archive generated during World War II. How can Mr. Bottum claim that “the books [on the topic of Pius XII and the Holocaust] have all been written” when the Vatican has refused requests from a panel of eminent historians formed to investigate Pacelli’s wartime record? It is all well and good for Mr. Bottum to refer to letters that Pius XII wrote in the 1920s and ’30s. But it is his record during the war that is at issue.

Second, Mr. Bottum casts the whole debate as if it were one about whether Pacelli was a Nazi sympathizer or worse. While some do claim this, the majority of people are simply troubled by the fact that during the whole war period Pius XII made not one public statement condemning the mass murder of Jews and others despite the fact that he was well aware that it was taking place and had been urged by Harold Tittmann (to whom Bottum refers) and others to do so. Surely the Pope’s obfuscatory 1942 Christmas message, which mentioned neither Jews nor Nazis, was not such a statement. Had Pius done what was asked of him, he would surely have saved hundreds of thousands of lives, since the success the Nazis achieved in murdering most of European Jewry was heavily dependent on the active, willing, enthusiastic, and industrious collaboration of Catholics, which began to wane only after it was clear that Germany would lose the war.

What Pius’ critics have trouble with is how the spiritual head of such an important religion could remain silent in the full knowledge that the worst crime in history was unfolding before his eyes. That is the serious complaint against him and the one for which there has never been a satisfactory exculpatory answer, though there have been many inculpatory explanations.

I can conclude only that Mr. Bottum’s refusal to deal with these two matters arises from his own partisanship. I also find evidence of this partisanship in what, at least to my ears, was the sarcastic, fed-up tone in which the piece was written—hardly one that inspires confidence that the writer is attempting to be objective.


Murray Teitel
Toronto, Ontario

Joseph Bottum replies:

In my article on the current state of scholarship about Pius XII, I mentioned Martin Rhonheimer only once, quite in passing. But it seems to have chafed him badly, and if he really must charge back out onto the playground to confront the bully who so hurt his feelings, who am I to say him nay? It is the role of giant ruffians like me to fall before doughty diminutives like Rhonheimer, and each of us must play our part in that ancient story.

Not today, however. Today, Rhonheimer gets knocked over a teakettle. This is hardly the place to rehearse the errors and elisions in his original article, or the way it allows its thesis like a steamroller to flatten the facts. But just in the part that Rhonheimer quotes in his letter—about the events of April 1933—the reader can sense the problems in his original essay.

As it happens, April 1933 saw a flurry of exchanges to which Rhonheimer doesn’t refer. When Cardinal Pacelli instructed Cesare Orsenigo, papal nuncio to Germany, to intervene against Nazi anti-Semitism, Orsenigo did not dismiss the instruction, as Rhonheimer suggests. Orsenigo said he would consult a German bishop. The result was that on April 10, 1933, three prominent German bishops issued a statement denouncing “the hatred and the dissent” directed against “faithful citizens”—a message everyone understood as a protest against the April 1 boycott against Jewish businesses, which had provoked Jews to petition Pacelli, who then sent his instruction to Orsenigo.

There is no mention of “converts” in the instruction, and the fact that one of the first diplomatic interventions made by the Holy See was against the anti-Semitism directed at all Jews is hardly compatible with Rhonheimer’s image of a removed Church concerned only with “Church interests.” Pacelli was always associated with the anti-Nazi bishops: Preysing and von Galen in particular, whom, after he became pope, he appointed cardinals in 1946. He wanted to overthrow Hitler, for God’s sake, and he took great risks with the anti-Nazi resistance. On April 19, 1933, Pacelli wrote Orsenigo, thanking him for a copy of the statement by the three German bishops and stating that he had informed Pius XI about this intervention in defense of the persecuted.

Rhonheimer insists he is “no less eager” than I am “to refute slanders against Pius XII and the Catholic Church.” Is he? I saw no such eagerness either in his original article or in his current letter: brief and ritualistic dismissal of calumny joined with extensive refutation of praise hardly looks like eagerness to me.

But then, I am a mere practitioner of “a political approach, not a historical one,” Rhonheimer insists, and thus unworthy of entering these discussions. Probably so. But Rhonheimer’s concern to concede everything possible to the denigrators of the Church seems to have prevented him from seeing that my article was about the climate in which every attack on Pius is magnified into hatred. Is it political, not historical, of me to object when a Fort Lauderdale newspaper declares Pius XII was “the main inspirer and prosecutor” of the Vietnam war? Political to complain when he’s denounced as a racist? Anti-historical to howl when the Times of London names him “a war criminal” or 60 Minutes insists there is “absolutely” no difference between the writings of Pius and the writings of Hitler? Vatican tour guides report that many Americans say, “Oh, that’s Hitler’s pope,” when they come upon the statue of Pius in St. Peter’s. There is a time to concede that the denigrators of the Church haven’t gotten every single interpretation wrong, but it has to come after the correction of all their errors.

I thank Murray Teitel for his letter, but I think he needs to reread my article, which ends with a call for the opening of more archives and a new biography of Pius XII. My essay was a description of the current climate, not a defense of the Pope, and it included reference to my own previously published worries about the role of the Church during the war. I don’t quite know what Mr. Teitel means by my “sarcastic” tone. There was little I intended as sarcasm in my article (nothing like the opening of my reply above to Martin Rhonheimer). But I will confess to having a “fed-up” tone, because I really am fed up—with Daniel Jonah Goldhagen’s book and John Cornwell’s book and the endless stream of slander pouring out against Pius XII these days. If Murray Teitel will join me to counter the slander, we can then return to serious analysis of the questions he raises.

The Good of Philosophy

I am grateful to Ralph Hancock for the words of praise with which his review of my book (Political Philosophy and the God of Abraham; April) begins and also for those critical observations in it that are genuinely thought-provoking. But I hope that I may be allowed to point out a very grave misunderstanding and misattribution, and to protest the calumny with which the attack on me reaches its crescendo.

Professor Hancock fairly summarizes my thought when he writes, “belief in God and the decision to obey Him must rest on human knowledge of what is good and true, a knowledge acquired, or at least interrogated, by rational reflection.” But he follows this with a sentence that attributes to me a grossly illogical non sequitur: “But once this has been conceded, rationalism, with its insistence on the autonomy of the human intellect, has won the day.” How in the world is this entailed, and where did I ever commit such an absurdity?

Yet Prof. Hancock insists that “Pangle returns to this theme toward the end of the book, in a chapter entitled ‘Abraham at the Peak.’” “On Pangle’s account,” the reviewer asserts, “biblical faith terminates in the following impasse: . . . either Abraham’s deed is completely unintelligible, arbitrary, groundless, and effectively mad—the act of a man who deliberately does what he knows not to be good for him; or it must be explained in terms of rational and egoistic calculation.” Here, once again, the position attributed to me is grotesquely absurd: for on what grounds could anyone equate genuinely self-conscious sacrifice or subordination of one’s own good with the “completely unintelligible, arbitrary, groundless, and effectively mad”?

Prof. Hancock then goes on to permit himself to speculate for two paragraphs on the “possibility” (for he can of course give absolutely no evidence) that “Pangle does not view philosophy as noble at all—and that he merely employs an exalted rhetoric to attract people, and especially young people” so as to seduce them into the sick view that “the philosopher is merely a hedonist” who “derives his pleasure from voiding the ethical, political, and religious content of life, savoring above all else his ever-renewed awareness of the groundlessness or incoherence underlying his attachment to other human beings.” A moment’s thought will show that such a caricature could not be a human being and that, in order to be engaged in leading young people toward such a conception of the philosopher, I would have to be deficient in humanity as well as intelligence.

To paint this kind of caricature, to engage in this kind of ad hominem attack—and thus to echo the ignorant and malicious Straussian-baiting that rages in the contemporary media—is sadly unworthy of the Ralph Hancock whose book Calvin and the Foundations of Modern Politics I respect and from which I have learned.


Thomas Pangle
University Professor
St. Michael’s College
University of Toronto

Ralph Hancock replies:

I am happy to grant that certain of my necessarily brief and therefore perhaps somewhat abrupt formulations cannot do complete justice to the carefully wrought twists and turns, the skillful dialectical detours, of Professor Pangle’s rich and subtle text. Still, I cannot see how an alert reader can avoid coming to the same conclusion I did about Prof. Pangle’s ultimate allegiance with regard to reason and revelation. Given that the author identifies himself at the outset with an “unqualifiedly normative rationalism,” which, following John Locke, adopts reason as its “only Star and compass,” it is hard to credit his surprise at my conclusion that “rationalism . . . has won the day.”

Likewise, in his book Prof. Pangle has powerfully questioned whether obedience understood as self-conscious submission to divine command is “possible, or even conceivable as coherent,” and he has remarked more delicately that “Abraham’s unequaled deed is infinitely clearer to us than the coherence of the thought that was in his heart.” This questioning was prepared, moreover, by a sympathetic account of Spinoza’s argument according to which obedience to any other god than reason leaves the “will” to obey God “as groundless and therefore as senseless and unsteady as the will to disobey,” “a manifestation of sheer arbitrariness,” no more than “tergiversations of mindlessness, or of an uncontrollable imp within us.” And yet Prof. Pangle finds “grotesquely absurd” my formulation (“unintelligible, arbitrary, effectively mad”) of what he considers to be the alternative to rationalism. If he would prefer, I would be happy to substitute his “mindless . . . uncontrollable imp” for my “effectively mad.”

In fact I do not believe that Prof. Pangle’s central argument, even in my perhaps brutally compact formulations, is a “grossly illogical non sequitur.” I believe it is very powerful, almost compelling. Yet it is, finally, inadequately reflective. Fully to question the rule of reason would require that one go beyond Prof. Pangle’s critique of the religious will to obedience—to scrutinize reason’s claim to self-sufficient goodness more ruthlessly than Prof. Pangle is willing to do. This would mean going beyond Leo Strauss’ bracing and useful but finally limited formulation of the problem in terms of an unbridgeable gulf separating “Jerusalem and Athens.” It would mean considering not only what questions Athens raises for Jerusalem, but also in what way philosophy’s questioning inevitably depends or draws upon a notion of the good inescapably rooted in pre-philosophical intimations. Prof. Pangle, despite rhetorical flourishes in this direction, finally reveals little interest in such a radical questioning of rationalism.

Finally, let us consider in context the passages that provoke Prof. Pangle’s charge of “calumny.” Having observed that the author finds the notion of “moral responsibility” to be at best highly problematic, I argue that he has subverted the ground of the very sense of elevation upon which his idea of philosophy depends. (Clearly Prof. Pangle does not look to any cosmic teleology to supply this defect.) And so I am indeed left to speculate as to what philosophy’s claim to be the best way of life could possibly mean in the absence of any ontological grounding of the distinction between “high” and “low.” Prof. Pangle pretends to be shocked by the suggestion that he might be practicing the by-now famous art of esoteric writing, that his numerous edifying rhetorical flourishes might finally be a pretty public packaging for a teaching ultimately addressed, as Strauss wrote, by “the mature philosopher” to “the puppies of his race”—that is, to a few “potential philosophers [who] are to be led step by step from the popular views which are indispensable for all practical and political purposes to the truth which is merely and purely theoretical” (my emphasis). My central question to Pangle is the same one I would put to Professor Strauss (whose contributions to political philosophy I hold to be beyond praise): How can this “purely theoretical” truth, in which the good is finally emancipated from the noble and thus purged of all moral as well as cosmological supports or analogies, sustain any sense of elevation?

In my review, I speculated that, in light of this emancipation and purgation of theory, the goodness of philosophy could be understood only in terms of the pleasure that derives from the act of emancipation and purgation. Prof. Pangle twice claims in his letter that this suggestion is a “caricature” of the truth. I note that a caricature is an exaggeration of certain recognizable attributes or qualities. Yet Prof. Pangle fails to explain in what ways my characterization was accurate and in what ways inaccurate. People will have to read Prof. Pangle’s book to decide the matter for themselves. I am satisfied to put this question to both author and reader: Once philosophy has emancipated itself from the goodness that informs the lives of non-philosophers, can it avoid degenerating into a way of life defined primarily, if not solely, by the savoring of its own superiority in being able to face, with the rarest courage, the groundlessness of existence?

Leo Strauss’ rediscovery of the art of esoteric writing was a singular and still underappreciated achievement. But the transplantation of this subtle art to the arena of modern scholarship tends to focus intellectual efforts too narrowly on exegetical arguments and thus to distract potential philosophers from the inquiry Strauss initiated into the political, moral, and religious conditions of philosophy. We would better honor Strauss’ legacy through a discussion—even a public discussion—of the good of philosophy.

Signs of Life in Europe

Robert Louis Wilken’s experience in Germany—conveyed in “The Church as Culture” (April)—led me to reflect on my own experience in Europe. During my exchange year in Bavaria, my family and I encountered both the moldering bones of Christendom and surprising outbreaks of some sort of renewal.

We were not impressed by most of the worship services we encountered —as intellectual as we fancied ourselves, we found the services all too heady, dry, and uninspired. Our more heidenisch friends longed for spiritual community, but just could not find a home in the Church. From what we could tell, this was a problem for the entire European Church.

On a visit to Erlangen, however, our eyes were opened to something new. In a former elementary school on a former U.S. military base, the Bavarian Lutheran Church had established an experimental congregation along contemporary evangelical lines, complete with a praise band, a casually dressed pastor, even a place for kid’s play at the back. Just as you’d imagine, the place was full of young European families, the kind that may or may not care if the European Union’s constitution speaks of Christianity but who certainly do care that God loves them and who respond to that love. Whether these young Christians can establish a culture that nourishes their faith is a question. It is a challenge I think they, and the bride of Christ, are ready to accept.


(The Rev.) Gregory Yeager
Grafton Lutheran Church
Grafton, North Dakota

Robert Louis Wilken replies:

I was recently in Spain and had similar feelings as I visited gorgeous churches that had the feel of museums. Yet on Ascension Sunday (as it is now called) I attended a solemn Liturgy in Córdoba (in the cathedral built in the midst of the famous Mosque of Córdoba) presided over by the local bishop in a church overflowing with an attentive and responsive congregation and a magnificent organ and choir. And billowing clouds of incense! On the surface Spanish society appears very secular, but in the twentieth century Spain gave birth to one of the most successful reform movements in contemporary Christendom, Opus Dei. My sense is that there is more to be hoped for from such radical and disciplined forms of Christian renewal than from praise bands and casually dressed clergy.

Canada’s Secular Wedge

Raymond J. de Souza’s “‘Thinly Disguised Totalitarianism’” (April) presents a very vivid—and wholly accurate—picture of the maw-like appetite of the secular-humanist state in Canada. One further example of our moral collapse is the eradication of Catholic schools in the Province of Newfoundland and Labrador.

When Newfoundland joined the Dominion in 1949, the Terms of Union included a constitutional protection of denominational public schools, most of which were Catholic. In 1995, the provincial government of former-Premier (now Chief Justice) Clyde Wells held a referendum to support a constitutional change which would preserve some Catholic schools—where numbers warranted—but would eliminate separate Catholic school boards. The referendum passed, and the federal government complied dutifully with Newfoundland’s request to make the requisite constitutional change.

It was the first time in Canadian legislative history that the national constitution had been amended to abrogate entrenched rights. But it would not be the last.

I was a Catholic school trustee at the time and recall well that ministers in the Newfoundland government provided copious assurances that this would not be the thin edge of a wedge: there would be no further constitutional changes, and supporters of Catholic schools who felt aggrieved under the new system would be entitled to judicial enforcement of their watered-down rights if their schools were not designated as Catholic.

As it turned out, Catholic parents in three school districts felt that their schools had been designated improperly as nondenominational and took their grievances to court. They won. The response of then-Premier Brian Tobin was to dress up the situation as a “crisis” (even though only a very small number of schools were affected by the legal proceedings) and call a second, snap referendum in 1997 seeking the total abolition of Catholic schools. The referendum passed (which is hardly surprising, since a majority-rule vote will trump minority rights every time) and Catholic schools were eliminated.

Since then, two private Catholic schools have been set up in the province. Oddly enough, those who toed the government line, saying that Catholics who want Catholic schools should pay for them out of their own pockets, now take the view that there should be no Catholic schools at all because they are discriminatory and they remove students from the public system. Needless to say, both schools have been mightily successful, with growing enrollments and numerous academic awards.


Del Atwood
New Glasgow,
Nova Scotia

In his article Raymond J. de Souza comments that, although Trinity Western University (TWU) prevailed in the Supreme Court of Canada, lower courts agreed with the College of Teachers. This is incorrect. All three courts that examined the TWU case ruled for TWU and against the College of Teachers. After its initial loss in the British Columbia Supreme Court, the college appealed to the province’s Court of Appeal, which also denied its case. The university then sought a final appeal in the Supreme Court of Canada where its arguments failed a final time.


Guy S. Saffold
Executive Vice President
Trinity Western University
Langley, British Columbia

Raymond J. de Souza replies:

Dr. Saffold is right—it was the College of Teachers that appealed the judgments, not Trinity Western University. I apologize for the error. However, it should be noted that while the courts sided with TWU, they did so in the final instance on evidentiary grounds (the College of Teachers had not sufficiently proved its case) rather than on grounds of religious liberty. So TWU’s victory is not as comforting as it otherwise should have been. Mr. Atwood is right to note that the question of denominational schools in Newfoundland serves as another example of religious influence being chased out of public life by aggressive secularism. While my piece focused on judicial and regulatory threats to religious liberty, the legislative branch in Canada has not escaped infection by the totalitarian impulse.

Faithful Intolerance

In “St. Benedict After September 11” (April), John M. Owen IV shows us why the Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture at the University of Virginia is not advancing the study of culture. One might expect that as a fellow of such an institute Mr. Owen would have something to say about culture, but unfortunately he does not. Owen criticizes Wendell Berry, Stanley Hauerwas, William Willimon, and Alasdair MacIntyre for their inability to live a dichotomous life. That is, he criticizes them for not being good Americans. “The state,” says Mr. Owen, “being the supreme coercive power in any country, is capable in theory of forcing the Church (and other communities) to change their practices or suffer punishment.” Mr. Owen goes on to say that because of America’s religious tolerance it “not only deserves our loyalty, but also merits our continuing involvement.” For Mr. Owen, then, the American government deserves the support of Christians rather than their condemnation because it is responsible to the people and grants them a place in which they can be free to worship—so long as they restrict their practices to the private sphere. MacIntyre’s Benedictine ideal is insufficient, says Owen, and must not be taken too far, since it may lead the state to act towards us (the religious) in an inhospitable fashion.

Constantinianism is our model for religious tolerance, but was this the “colossal error” that Stanley Hauerwas and William Willimon claim it to have been? Mr. Owen thinks that Hauerwas and Willimon are too radical in thinking so. Prior to Constantine’s conversion there were great persecutions against Christians taking place throughout the Roman empire. And with each persecution came newly baptized confessors. The church of a crucified God does not deteriorate in the face of persecution but flourishes—for “it is in dying,” says St. Francis of Assisi, “that we gain eternal life.” Christianity suffered a loss of identity when it became a “national religion.”

A decaying empire with a revolutionary religion that wouldn’t die needed to gain the upper hand. What better way to gain support than to turn the tables and declare the revolutionists the head of society? It put an end to the revolt and gave a dying empire a glimpse of hope.

America, by contrast, was to be a new land, a place where citizens were free from the constraints of a national religion, where one’s worldly fate would not be tied to whether or how often one participated in the life of the Church. Religious tolerance created a gulf between church and state and forced the Church into submission. Toleration was not for the people; toleration was for the state—for the capitalist market system. Religious tolerance in America ensures not only that Americans have the right to stay home on Sundays but also that the Church tolerates the activities of the state and the surrounding economic structure.

Toleration masks itself as a wonderful gift to all of us who call ourselves Christian. Christianity, however, would be better served if it were the direct target of the state rather than the victim of its deception. Mr. Owen claims that “our love for the Church . . . demands our continuing engagement in, and defense of, the America we have.” If we really love the Church, we would wage war on the John M. Owens of our society. The fact is that one simply cannot be a Christian and embrace religious tolerance. To do the latter is to embrace the death of conviction. If we for one moment tolerate American democracy as the highest ideal we cease to be Christian.

Let us cease participating in American nihilism and debunk the John M. Owens in our society. Out of love for the Church, let us reclaim its identity as an intolerant and faithful people.


Billy Daniel
Duke University
Raleigh, North Carolina

John M. Owen IV replies:

One would think from reading Billy Daniel’s letter that I am oblivious to the corrosive effects of American culture on Christian faith and practice and that I label as “bad Americans” those who alert us to those effects. In fact, my article makes clear that I concur with many of the critiques found in Hauerwas, Berry, et al.: much of our culture and many of our institutions are sick, and the Church’s immunity is low. But I say that faithful American Christians face a dilemma: We are in fact Americans as well as Christians, and because America is seriously threatened by terrorism we must try to defend both country and Church. The trouble is that the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, have lured many conservative Christians back into Cold War-style defenses of the American way of life, particularly individual liberty. I argue that, because we were correct prior to September 11 to criticize such aspects of American culture and to find the St. Benedict option appealing, we should instead base our defense of our country on its continuing toleration of the Church. I argue, further, that safeguarding that same tolerance of religious communities requires our continuing involvement in society and politics—that is, something less than a full Benedictine withdrawal.

Mr. Daniel seems to deny that we face a dilemma. He achieves this denial, first, via a strange silence: He entirely ignores September 11, the event that (I claim) brought our dilemma to the surface by reminding us that we depend on our government for safety. If Mr. Daniel believes we ought to opt out of the war on terrorism, he should say so and defend his position. Second, he argues that toleration is a poisoned chalice. Persecution strengthens the Church. Christians should become intolerant to the point of waging war (whatever that might mean) on people like me.

A full reply to Mr. Daniel’s rejection of toleration would require at least another article, but three points should be noted. First, his advice is unclear: Are we to become Anabaptists and leave society alone so as to preserve our own faithfulness? That would be tolerant, which he does not like. So perhaps he means we are to follow St. Augustine and “compel them to come in.” But such intolerance would require capturing the American state, which he presumably rejects also (as do I). The confusion might stem from Mr. Daniel’s misunderstanding of Constantinianism. Far from being “our model for religious tolerance,” Constantinianism was intolerant.

Second, it is certain that persecution can strengthen the Church and that persecution only happens at God’s sufferance. But where in Scripture or church teaching are we told to try to provoke persecution? Our twofold mandate is to spread and live out the gospel; whether persecution is permitted or withheld, we are, with St. Paul, to persevere and be content.

Third, Mr. Daniel’s evident vision of a Church determined to remain a perpetually persecuted minority seems to be a serious failure of charity and hence incoherent. Such a Church, to remain faithful, would need permanently to exist alongside a larger society that is, in the Christian view, lost. Surely it is the height of selfishness—and hence self-defeating—to try to keep others in darkness so that we might remain in the light.

None of this is to deny the costs of living in America today, including the often subtle cooptation of the Church that Mr. Daniel describes. Nor does it imply that we should cease criticizing our society or strengthening our own countercultures. But we cannot fully evade the costs of being American without incurring other serious costs. Mr. Daniel’s program is obscure, but its costs would appear high indeed: either keeping the gospel to ourselves or bringing back Tomás de Torquemada.

Mr. Daniel begins his letter with a gratuitous attack on the Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture at the University of Virginia, with which I am affiliated. The Institute comprises many scholars producing all manner of fine work. I would hope that readers will no more judge the Institute by my article than they might judge my alma mater, Duke University, by Mr. Daniel’s letter.

The Rhetoric of Prayer

In “Editorial Secrets Revealed” and the note on the “Adoremus Bulletin” (While We’re At It, Public Square, April), Richard John Neuhaus focused on the use of proper grammar and elegant language. I am sympathetic with Father Neuhaus about the lack of clarity and elegance in the language we use at every level of our national conversations. In conversations with junior-high-school children I notice their complete ignorance of the objective case of the relative pronoun. In sermons (I myself preach weekly and am not above reproach) I am appalled at the confusion of language and disorder of outline. I shudder to listen to the leader of the free world, who unfortunately has no ear for the rhythms of good rhetoric.

But having said all of that, I would like to speak at least a few words in defense of colloquialism. I use an altar book containing many prayers traceable to ancient sacramentaries of the Western Church. These are by any literary measure excellent. As a matter of fact, one can usually pick out the newer ones only because they are poorer in literary style. But they are lousy prayers for my congregation. The people that I lead in prayer do not pray in literary styles. The brunt of their personal prayer is much closer to Luther’s “O God, have mercy!” As I lead them in prayer and teach them to pray, my concern is much less to teach them elegance and much more to help them express the yearnings of their souls for the merciful intervention of the Lord. Between elegance and relevance, a balance must be struck.


(The Rev.) Douglas Stowe
St. Stephen Lutheran Church
Waterford, Michigan

RJN replies:

Balanced as I am, I take Pastor Stowe’s point, in part. There is no literary problem, it seems to me, with Luther’s “O God, have mercy!” More generally, there is certainly a place for the colloquial in preaching, but I would suggest that liturgical language should always be elevated. It may at times require, and invite, homiletical or catechetical explanation, but in general we need to be fitted to the language of the liturgy, not the language of the liturgy fitted to us. My dear friend, the late Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, was once accosted by a lady who complained that the synagogue service did not say what she meant. “Madam,” said Heschel, “the idea is not that the service should say what we mean but that we should mean what the service says.”

Paul Ramsey’s Style

I write in defense of Paul Ramsey. In “Editorial Secrets Revealed,” Richard John Neuhaus insists that Paul Ramsey was “a bad writer” (Public Square, April). Ramsey is not here to defend himself, so I must rise to the occasion.

In truth, I once shared Father Neuhaus’ opinion. Indeed, once early in my time at Notre Dame I conspired to have Ramsey come to give a lecture. I was to introduce him. In my introduction I noted that some people thought Ramsey’s style convoluted. In order, ironically, to combat this view, I then read the following sentence from War and the Christian Conscience:

If at this point the natural man in us exclaims, or the man insufficiently schooled by Christ, that it is humanly impossible to let go the blow and withhold the animosity, or to let go the bullet and withhold the intention in the manner Aquinas describes, and moreover that it is bad casuistry to suppose there is much difference anyway between an act which is good and right in its ‘species’ according to what is intended and one that is not, since both bring about the death of the attacker with equal certainty, if any Christian should say this, and should he also propose as an alternative that the matter be settled more simply on grounds of the plain right of self-defense, then it might be replied that this means to let go justice at an attacker and withhold love, and that this shows the complex intentionality of any Christian action in such critical situations—except, of course, an act of nonresistance, to either innocent or unjust aggressors alike.

Might not this sentence suggest that Ramsey first wrote his books in German and then translated them into English? Ramsey accepted my kidding in good humor, but after he returned to Princeton, he sent me his calling card, on the back of which was written a quotation from a review of War and the Christian Conscience from the Church Times, August 11, 1961. That quote reads, “Incidentally, the book is written in a beautifully articulate style which reveals an exceptionally clear and charitable mind, and makes it, insofar as any book on this subject can be, a positive pleasure to read.”

So there, Fr. Neuhaus, let Ramsey have the last word!


Stanley Hauerwas
Duke University
Raleigh, North Carolina


Joseph Bottum’s “The End of the Pius Wars” (April) incorrectly states that the cover of David Kertzer’s The Popes Against the Jews shows a photo of a Nazi with a whip. In fact, the photo is on the cover of Michael Phayer’s The Catholic Church and the Holocaust. Moreover, what purports to be a photo of Pius XII on Kertzer’s dust jacket is, in fact, a photo of Pius XI.